SEO, SEM, WTF?

Oftentimes, people will use the terms Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) interchangeably. Are they the same thing? Nope. Are they both important? Absolutely.

When a consumer searches for something, whether it be a local pizza shop or a credit card with travel rewards, they are expressing interest in a product or service that they will very likely purchase in the near future. So, if a consumer searches for something related to your product or service, you want to make sure that your business is being seen in the search results. The closer to the top of the results, the better. Both SEO and SEM can help you achieve this goal in different ways.

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization is going to help you achieve a higher listing in a search engine’s organic results. All of the search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) have a complex algorithm that instantaneously determines which websites are most relevant to the user’s search query so they can rank the results accordingly. It’s important to make sure your website is optimized for the highest rankings. The number one way to achieve this is by providing relevant content such as product info, blogs, and reviews. There are other, more technical methods like optimizing page titles and meta-tags, defining relevant keywords, and linking to relevant, trusted sources. There are many tools available to help manage your SEO including Google Analytics & the Search Console, Moz, Screaming Frog, etc.

Search Engine Marketing

If you want to kick it up a notch, layer-in Search Engine Marketing, or paid search, to ensure you are appearing in the most coveted real estate on the page: the very top of the consumer’s screen, on top of the organic search results. With paid search, you determine your budget and target your customers by creating ad groups and keywords relevant to your product or service. You’ll want to develop text ads with relevant promotional messaging that entice the consumer to click through to your landing page. The best part is that you only pay when an ad is clicked, so no wasted impressions! And it’s super measurable, making it easy to tie back in to your business results.

The bottom line? Consumers using search are further down the sales funnel than consumers being served ads, whether digitally or traditionally. So, the question becomes: whose listing do you want that consumer to see? Yours? Or your competition’s?


Katy West specializes in digital media and account management at James & Matthew. She lives in the small town of Littleton, Massachusetts with her husband and sons, Jack and Josh.